There’s not that much difference between a day of jury duty and many of the days I spend on airplanes… well, at least the days I spend flying coach. I’ve got my laptop and I’ve just spent four hours trying to tame the backlog in my inbox and clean out my aggregator. The chairs are similarly uncomfortable, and there’s no food but the stuff you pay for. Everyone else is bored, reading each other’s newspapers or absently chatting. And at least 70% of the crowd is anesthetized by a TV set. The only surprise at the end of today will be ending my journey in Pittsfield, where I started.
Massachusetts has a “one day, one trial” jury system – the theory is that you serve for a single day, or, if you’re empanelled, for the duration of that trial. Show up at the courthouse and you’re off the hook for three years to come. I’ve successfully postponed my service three times over the past four years, and now find myself paying the piper – my fingers are crossed and doublecrossed that I don’t get empanelled and find myself on a trial that forces me to miss the Metaverse conference in San Francisco on Friday.
(The current rumor going around the jury room is that a murder jury was empanelled yesterday, which means we’re unlikely to see criminal jury service today… I worry that, having written this phrase, I’ve doomed myself to immediate selection. But not a single panel of the 60 jurors in this waiting room has been called yet.)
I wonder if America will become more efficient in the future, allowing you to combine different waiting-heavy passtimes together. I think holding jury trials on trans-Pacific flights would be an excellent idea. No matter how full your mailbox is, you’re not going to work for all 13 hours of the Detroit-Tokyo flight. Let passengers board, have a nice meal, then swear them in and have the lawyers offer opening statements. If you held the trials in business class (the upper deck on a 747, perhaps), you’d reverse the incentives surrounding peremptory challenges – people would be begging to be empanelled, rather than claiming to be biased against policemen or people of color, so that they wouldn’t end up exiled to coach. I’d recommend civil trials going east to west and criminal going west to east, so you could deliver the guilty directly to their final destinations…
(And just think of the frequent flier miles judges, baliffs and lawyers could earn…)
Another airline/jury duty similarity: the value of explaining what’s going on to the jurors/passengers. At 1pm, five hours after we’d all come to the courtroom, the baliffs asked us to come to the main jury room. Judge Paul Vrabel gave a useful talk to the assemble crowd explaining, basically, that the Massachusetts court system hadn’t just been jerking us around for the day. The Superior Court was, indeed, hearing a murder trial, and the jurors empanelled the day before would likely serve for two weeks. We’d been waiting to see if we were needed for one of the ten cases in district court. Nine of the defendents pled guilty, and Judge Vrabel dismissed the final case on a technicality, freeing us from sitting on a jury – he researched the point of law, dismissed the case, then came downstairs to dismiss us.
All in all, not a terrible way to spend half a day. And now I’m off the hook for three more years. Hope not to have an occasion to visit the Pittsfield Courthouse until 2009…